Dating apps: Rise of online abuse

A survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology has revealed alarming statistics about online abuse and harassment.


The survey, which was released in 2022 and had over 3,000 app users as participants, found that three out of four surveyed reported experiencing some form of online abuse or harassment while using apps. This included receiving degrading messages or comments on their profile pages, being followed without consent or having false information spread about them online. 

The results of this survey suggest that the issue of online abuse is prevalent amongst app users today, with many feeling unsafe when using these platforms. It also highlights the need for greater efforts to be taken to protect users from such abuse. Companies should develop mechanisms to prevent people from engaging in cyberbullying behaviour and make sure they are providing a safe environment for their customers to use their services.

It's no secret that experiences of abuse on apps are strongly gendered and reflect preexisting patterns of marginalisation. Women, in particular, are targeted by people who use the anonymity of the internet to attack them for their gender. According to a report from Amnesty International, more than 70% of women using social media reported experiencing some form of online abuse or harassment in 2019.

The report also found that certain groups were more likely to be targeted by online abusers: LGBT+ individuals, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities. Although men can also experience similar forms of abuse online, women tend to receive it with greater frequency and intensity due to entrenched sexism in society. In addition, research has found that female victims often face additional stigma and judgement from the wider public when they speak out about their experiences.

Survivors of app-related abuse and violence have long felt that the technology companies behind the apps have been slow to respond to their complaints and failed to offer meaningful responses. According to recent reports, many survivors feel that tech companies are not doing enough to combat this type of abuse, leading them to look elsewhere for help.

The lack of response has left victims feeling unheard, ignored, and frustrated. Many survivors report having experienced humiliation, fear, anxiety, and depression as a result of their experiences with app-related abuse or violence. In some cases, survivors have reported being physically threatened or harassed by other users on apps such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Others have encountered cyberstalking through social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. 

Despite numerous attempts by advocacy groups to address this issue with tech companies over the years, changes appear minimal at best.

In the age of technology, prevention is key when it comes to protecting individuals and businesses from fraud. Ensuring strong security measures are in place before any type of transaction takes place can make all the difference. This includes robust profile verification processes that verify the identity and other information provided by the user prior to allowing them access or to complete a transaction. 

Verifying people's profiles helps protect against identity theft and scams as well as fraudulent transactions, which cost companies millions every year. Moreover, even if the profile verification process was bolstered, regulators could still only respond to the most serious cases of hacking and data breaches after they occur - making prevention an essential part of each organisation’s cybersecurity strategy. 

Therefore, organisations should take proactive steps towards preventing any potential incidents that could result in financial loss or damage to their reputation. We spoke to a female that has been using online dating apps for a number of years and feels that behaviour has got worse and is becoming increasingly difficult to find 'reputable' men who are online dating in the hope of finding love.

She says that the sheer number of apps these days makes it easier to spot the potential red flags as each dating app tends to have a certain feel about them, and the people that are often on every dating app can raise a warning about their potential intentions, along with their locations being different on each app and their biography (or lack of biography and photos). There are apps designed specifically for casual relations, but when those same people are present on the casual apps, alongside the more 'long-term relationship apps' it raises questions about their intentions.

In her experience, those are often ones to be wary of. She has also come across an individual that was almost proud of his previous convictions as a domestic abuser by outwardly promoting the fact he had 'red flags' and stating that if you Googled his name there would be associated press describing his previous convictions...this was particularly alarming as both the individual and a number of her friends received persistent messages from this man, even though they had reported him to the individual platforms explaining he was openly admitting her had previously abused women. Yet none of the platforms suspended his account.

There have also been instances where men have requested explicit photos within the first couple of messages, asking her to meet up that night in a strange location or offering to come to her own house. Again, when she reported these accounts to the individual platforms the accounts were not suspended.

With the likes of Facebook dating it becomes very easy to track someone's rough location and from there use Google to find out their work or home address from which we just do not know what could happen. But there does not seem to be any proactive steps on the platform's side to protect the individuals that may not know they are walking into a lion's den of previous abusers, controllers or criminals.

There is the argument that there is no way of truly policing safety via online dating apps. But, in this day and age, particularly for single parents it is now the norm to meet potential matches online. Therefore the platforms need to keep up with the modern-day and put further security checks in place to qualify people before they are allowed to use the platforms to match, connect and potentially meet with individuals. There isn't a requirement to prove your income, your name let alone your criminal past. If this simple measure was in place it may seek to put off the individuals on there for dishonourable intentions or at least provide a way for individuals and the platform to trace anyone that is abusive.

Our research indicates that app-makers have a responsibility to provide transparent, accountable and timely responses when users report conduct that makes them feel unsafe. We conducted interviews with app-makers in order to gain an understanding of how they respond to reports from their users. At a platform policy level, this could be addressed by hiring more local staff who offer transparent, timely responses to complaints and concerns.

When it comes to preventing abuse and harassment online, prevention is key. But the reality is that even with preventative measures in place, such as enforcing community guidelines and investing in safer user experiences, policing can still be an important part of the equation. After all, abusive behaviour rarely takes place without warning signs or prior instances of conflict. Therefore, being able to respond quickly and appropriately when incidents occur is equally as crucial as preventing them from happening in the first place. 

The challenge lies in finding a balance between enforcement and prevention so that users feel safe while also respecting their freedom of speech and expression. This can be done by taking a zero-tolerance approach to certain types of language or behaviour while also providing resources for victims who may not know where to turn after experiencing abuse online.

As technology continues to advance, more and more apps are being used daily. Many of these apps, including Tinder, have clear policies as to how they cooperate with law enforcement agencies when it comes to obtaining user data. This is important in order to protect the user’s privacy while also ensuring that information can be accessed if needed for legal purposes. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency'was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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